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28 June 2024  •  Society & Culture

Queer Column: What is comphet? The legacy of the Lesbian Masterdoc

Often, queer people don’t have the resources or representation needed to recognise, understand and embrace their queerness.

By Emersyn Wood (she/her)
Queer Column: What is comphet? The legacy of the Lesbian Masterdoc

“Hey, you’re really pretty. Could I buy you a drink sometime?” 

My heart began to race. Regardless of your sexuality, rejecting someone, especially a man, isn’t easy. Before I had come to terms with the fact that I don’t experience sexual or romantic attraction towards men, I may have said yes to this stranger on the street. He seemed like a nice guy, handsome enough. I knew I didn’t feel attraction to him, but I also felt that I was supposed to… that he might grow on me, even though no guy before ever had. 

“Hey, I really appreciate that, but I’m actually a lesbian.” 

Rejecting the sexual or romantic advances of a man is an empowering, albeit intimidating act for a woman. When you grow up in a landscape that normalises heterosexuality and alienates homosexuality, centres men and objectifies the feminine, identifying as a lesbian is an irrefutably punk thing to do. 

I observe the surprise on his face as he re-examines me, looking for signs that he might’ve missed. Confused and unsure how to respond, he asks “How did you know you were bisexual?” 

Well, I’m not. Perhaps this man doesn’t know the difference. Or maybe he can’t accept that a woman wouldn’t be interested in him. But how am I supposed to explain the ongoing process of navigating the intricacies of my queer identity to a stranger who may or may not know the difference between bisexual and lesbian? 

Most of the lesbians I know realised they liked women before figuring out they didn’t like men. This phenomenon is a symptom of compulsory heterosexuality (comphet), which is the patriarchal and heteronormative notion that opposite-gender attraction and relationships are non-optional. According to Tumblr user Anjeli Luz, creator of the community-acclaimed Lesbian Masterdoc, “Compulsory heterosexuality” is exactly what it sounds like – being straight is something our culture tries to force on us.”

The world I grew up in taught me that, because I identify as a woman, winning the love and affection of a man should be my penultimate goal, second only to providing him with offspring. Princesses live happily ever after because they marry the prince. Pretty girls are popular at school because the boys like them. Men are violent and dangerous: you need a man to protect you from other men. If you’re nice and pretty enough, maybe you’ll find one. 

The term ‘compulsory heterosexuality’ was popularised by queer intellectual Adrienne Rich, in her 1980 essay ‘Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence.’ Although compulsory heterosexuality is also a reality for men, it has mostly been studied as something that affects women. Misogyny dictates that female identities are often defined by their relation to men. Women are entitled to either Miss or Mrs (followed by the last name of their father or husband). When women become tethered to a man, their status changes accordingly. Men go by ‘Mr,’ regardless of marital status. Men are centred in mainstream understandings of sex, as sexual intercourse between two cisgender heterosexuals is not considered ‘complete’ without male penetration of the female. While many women enjoy penetrative sex, statistics tell us that 75% of women never reach orgasm from intercourse alone, while 95% of men do. Female pleasure is not prioritised, or even considered in a lot of heteronormative dynamics. 

Patriarchal structures also fail to teach women sexual agency. We are taught that we are objects of male desire, vessels for male pleasure and that our own desires and pleasure are unimportant and even shameful. Most people are perplexed at the concept of lesbian sex because it doesn’t involve a man. It is common for queer women and non-men to be asked invasive questions about their sex lives by curious heterosexuals who struggle to imagine a sexual interaction that doesn’t centre on male pleasure and penetration. Even lesbian porn is made for the consumption and enjoyment of the male gaze. 

There is a dire lack of accurate and positive representation of queer relationships between women in media. It makes sense then, that women who experience very little or no attraction to men still engage in romantic relationships with them – they see no other option. For many, the concept of ‘attraction’ has become so socially entangled with men, that any feelings they may have towards men are interpreted as attraction. Even if those feelings are just anxiety, confusion, or a desire to be desired. 

A gay woman in the clutches of compulsory heterosexuality can present very much like a straight woman, and the straight woman’s frustrations toward men can be easily misconstrued as homosexual tendencies. Straight women will complain about men, agree that women are objectively better looking than men, kiss their girl-friends on a night out, and complain that sex with men is not satisfying. These are experiences that are common to both straight and gay women, which makes it even more difficult for gay women to discern their sexuality. They must question whether what they are feeling is part of the general grievances and disappointments faced by women across the sexuality spectrum, or if it is rooted in their lack of attraction to men. Even when gay women are aware of their attraction to other women, they often lack clarity regarding their feelings toward men, and cling to the heterosexual fantasies they have been fed by society. 

Personally, I had always wanted a boyfriend. I enjoyed the validation I got from men’s romantic attention, and conflated that feeling with attraction. It is normal to crave the closeness and intimacy of a relationship, even without a subject of real desire. Often, queer people don’t have the resources or representation needed to recognise, understand and embrace their queerness. 

The significance of the Lesbian Master Doc is that it is a comprehensive and accessible self-reflective tool for those who identify as women. It was written and published to social media by Tumblr user Anjeli Luz in 2018, while she was coming to terms with her own sexuality. The document is actually titled ‘Am I a Lesbian?,’ but as it gained traction amongst the community online, it became known as ‘The Lesbian Masterdoc.’ One does not need to identify as lesbian to find value in the document. In fact, it is likely to be of most value to those who are unsure of their romantic and/or sexual identities. Understanding compulsory heterosexuality is an important part of understanding queer experiences and identities, even for those who are not queer. The masterdoc makes this concept accessible to anyone: it’s easy to read, inclusive of trans and non-binary lesbians, and available to anyone with an uncensored internet connection. 


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